Rated Reads

Year of the Horse

by Justin Allen

Rated: Mild

Tzu-Lu is 15 years old when the most famous gunslinger, Jack Straw, comes into his family’s store looking for an explosions expert for a mission. Against all odds (or at least his expectations), Lu (as he comes to be called) is given that job and sets off on an adventure that will change his life. He’s in an intriguing multicultural band: there’s Henry, a former slave; Chino, a Mexican outlaw; and the MacLemores, a father-and-daughter team whose gold the gang is out to grab from under the nose of a Yankee who stole it from Mr. MacLemore years before.

As they traverse the country, they meet Native Americans, experience natural disasters, run into crazy polygamous Mormons, run from demon ghost riders, and hang on the brink of death. And Lu discovers a depth in himself and his companions, a depth he never imagined was there.

It’s an intriguing book: a multicultural Western with a touch of the supernatural. It is an unlikely combination, but Justin Allen makes it work for most of the book; the magic, if it can be called that, is small and subtle and only referred to in passing, which gives the book an odd, but not entirely unpleasant, vibe. The characters are just people out doing a job; there are very few instances when race actually comes into play. However, Allen uses the mulitcultural aspect of the book to climb upon a tolerance pedestal at the end of the book. I don’t normally mind pedestals, but after the adventure/discovery story, it just all seemed out of place.

Additionally, the book comes to an interesting end, and then… it just keeps going. Sure, the story worked OK with an epilogue of sorts, but it would have been just fine without it as well. And the book was doing just fine without pounding into our heads that anyone can be American, not just white people.

Either way, the final chapters soured the rest of the book for me. Which is too bad, because I was enjoying it quite a bit.

Rated: Mild for some supernatural scenes, dealings with Old Scratch, and mild language.

— Reviewed by Melissa Fox

Melissa Madsen Fox's blogging career began in 2004 when she started Book Nut. Reading, reviewing and book blogging have taken over what's left of her life after being a stay-at-home mom to four rambunctious daughters and wife to a slightly- absent-minded professor of political science.

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  • Year of the Horse
  • by Justin Allen
  • Rated: Mild
  • Genre: Young adult
  • Reviewer: